Sex workers in Durban claim they are easy prey for unscrupulous SAPS and metro police officers who rape and rob them.

?We are more scared of the police than the criminals,? said one 29-year-old prostitute, Lerato*.

Business24

The claims were made to the Daily News after an inquiry was launched by the SAPS?s Sexual Offences Unit into the conduct of a metro police officer who allegedly demanded sex from prostitutes in the Point precinct and then filmed it against their will.

Police spokesman, Colonel Jay Naicker, said officers had registered the inquiry for further investigation.

?On conclusion of the inquiry, we will consult with the NPA (National Prosecuting Authority) on whether criminal charges can be opened,? he said.

Metro police spokesman, Eugene Msomi, said their own investigation into the constable was continuing.

In the past year, Lerato, a mother-of-one, who operates in the Point and Umbilo areas, alleges metro police and SAPS officers raped her on five occasions.

Like many sex workers, she did not report the incidents.

?How can we go to the police when they are the ones who do this?? she said.

Last year, the Women?s Legal Centre released a report detailing the widespread and systematic abuse of sex workers in South Africa.

Of the 308 sex workers interviewed for the study, 70 percent said they experienced some form of abuse at the hands of the police.

The study found that the officers removed their name tags so that sex workers were unable to identify them, and instilled such fear that they were too afraid to report the crimes to authorities.

Lerato, who has worked as a prostitute for more than a decade, said the most terrifying incident occurred last December when a police officer in full uniform threatened to throw her into the harbour unless she had sex with him.

She was picked up for soliciting near the New Rand Hotel and instead of being taken to the police station, the officer drove to a secluded spot near the harbour.

?There was nothing I could do. I had to comply,? she said on Wednesday.

A month before that, she said that she was ?arrested? by three metro police officers who took her into the back entrance of a satellite station near the beachfront and then raped her.

On another occasion, she said that after being rounded up with another sex worker they were taken to the Durban Central police station and placed in a cell.

?The next shift came on and then two officers walked into the cell and said that they will release us if we had sex with them. We didn?t want to stay in jail, so we did what they asked,? Lerato said.

?If you do this job, this is one of the things you have got to live with.?

She said the police would often drop them off in places like Pinetown and Seaview after having sex with them.

?They have no feeling and think it is their right to have sex with us.?

Mbali*, another sex worker, who also works part-time at the Durban office of the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat), said that in addition to being raped, sex workers were often robbed by officers.

?The policemen will come and demand that the girls pay them R100 and R500 to work on that street. If they don?t comply, they are threatened with arrest. The girls end up paying and if they can?t pay, they are forced to have sex,? Mbali said. ?That is not sex, it?s rape.?

Ntokozo Yingwana, an advocacy officer at Sweat, said the criminalisation of sex work was the main reason sex workers were abused by police.

?Sex workers often find it difficult to report cases of abuse, especially if the perpetrator is a police officer, because they fear being charged with selling sex,? she said.

?And that?s what the perpetrators take advantage of. We have had numerous complaints of police officers asking sex workers for sexual favours, in exchange for not being arrested.?

Yingwana said: ?Until sex work is decriminalised, I?m afraid sex workers will continue to be raped and abused by police, with impunity.?

Naicker said police had not received any reports of officers soliciting sex workers recently.

?Any report of police misconduct or criminality is immediately investigated and perpetrators are brought to book.

?The standards we set for police officers are higher than an ordinary member of the public and we are harsher when it comes to police officers involved in crime,? he said.

?Soliciting the services of sex workers still remains a crime and therefore any person guilty of such conduct will be arrested whether he is a police officer or member of the public. Police officers who commit crime are arrested by their own colleaguesband we will not condone officers who abuse their positions of authority for personal gain,? he said.

Naicker could not provide figures on how many officers were arrested or dismissed for soliciting sex from prostitutes.

*Names have been changed to protect the identities of sex workers.

Source-Daily News

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